Some of the Labour Party’s safest Northern heartlands seats are braced for increasingly tight races against Ukip; some of which are too close to call. With thirteen days until the UK heads to the polls, the Labour MP responsible for heading off the Ukip threat has admitted that the party is nipping at the ankles of Labour MPs who are used to large majorities.
According to national and constituency-specific polling Ukip are serious threats in Great Grimsby, Rotherham, Dudley North and Hartlepool. This follows on from Ukip coming within 617 votes of securing a victory over Labour in the Heywood and Middleton by-election earlier this year.
Even if Ukip do not ultimately make a Northern breakthrough, in scores of other seats they will be in second place to Labour MPs who will increasingly seek tougher action from their Party on the European Union or immigration, in order to stem the threat on their home turf.
John Healey, the former Labour minister tasked with shoring up support for his party against Ukip, admitted Ukip would become the main challengers, calling this expectation “realistic”.
Mr Healey, a South Yorkshire MP has been tasked with stemming the drift of traditional Labour voters to Ukip, but has expressed doubts that much can be done, while admiring their appeal which defies usual campaigning logic: “Ukip can pull support without doing any traditional or local work,” he said. “We saw this in the Rotherham by-election where they did virtually nothing and still got 22 per cent. I think there will be a number of Labour colleagues who have been used to big majorities who will suddenly be uncomfortable with Ukip in a strong second place.”
Mr Healey persistently warned about the growth of Ukip after watching the party capitalise on the child grooming scandal in nearby Rotherham.
Labour’s Rotherham MP, Sarah Champion, admitted that UKIP would “definitely” come second in her seat.
This view is endorsed by Dr Robert Ford, a lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester who predicted that UKIP would become the primary challenger in around 40 to 60 seats; he said the anti-EU Party were “still in a strong position to take a lot of second places”.
Meanwhile Ukip’s Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans said today she thought that David Cameron would rather Labour won seats than Ukip made a breakthrough. Cameron has been criticised for saying that it is Nigel Farage’s supporters who could put Ed Miliband in Number 10 while obtusely ignoring the Conservative candidates in northern seats who may be the ones to split a right wing vote and ensure Labour hold onto the seats.